Piano Technician, Restorer, and Curator
My passion for keyboard instruments started at the University of Michigan, where I wanted to program concerts of underperformed classical wind chamber music. One of the works was a piano concerto with wind octet accompaniment, and, when I inquired about using a period-appropriate fortepiano for the performance, was offered lessons on the instrument. This was the first time I took piano lessons, starting around the age of 21, finding middle C and working my way through the Nannerl book to perform that chamber concerto a year later.
This passion led me to Boston, where I attended the North Bennet Street School, worked as a technician at Boston University, and started making instruments of my own. I have been so fortunate work there, to accumulate three very different pianos of the 1840s to restore, and had moments working for artists I enjoyed even before meeting them.
I take this passion with me to Cornell University and the Center for Historical Keyboards, working on historic and modern pianos, chasing that feeling that comes with reminding someone how much they love their piano when it sounds and feels its best.
Ji Young Kim
Ji Young Kim is a music scholar, performer, and educator specializing in Western art music and historical pianos from the late 18th and 19th centuries. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music after teaching at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, the Australian National University, and Cornell University, where she received her PhD in Musicology in 2019. Her dissertation explored aspects of embodiment as interpersonal communication in the piano compositions of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms; it received the Karl Geiringer award from the American Brahms Society in 2018. More recently, she has presented and written on the musical collaborations between Clara Schumann and Jenny Lind. In all facets of her work, Ji Young combines microhistory, music analysis, and performance practice in search for musical meaning and concrete sonic and embodied experiences.
Jordan Musser is the Program Coordinator at both the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies and the Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards, where he oversees administrative operations for these closely linked organizations. He is also a musicologist, and prior to joining the Westfield team served as a part-time faculty member in the Department of Art and Music Histories at Syracuse University and as a Lecturer in the Department of Music at Cornell, where he received his Ph.D. in Musicology in 2020. Jordan’s scholarly work is deliberately wide-ranging as reflected in his award-winning dissertation, “Managing the Crisis: Music, Neoliberalism, and the Popular Avant-Garde in Britain, 1975–84,” which discusses how free improvisers, dub producers, punks, and performance artists negotiated emerging Thatcherism within fine-arts and popular fields. He also researches piano music in nineteenth-century Europe, an enduring interest that led him to organize the conference, “Four-Hand Keyboarding in the Long Nineteenth Century,” via Westfield in 2017. Articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Twentieth-Century Music, Metal Music Studies, the Westfield newsletter, and Sounding Out!. Standout conference appearances include the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, the biennial meeting of the North American British Music Studies Association, and the Music and the Moving Image conference at New York University.
Piano Technician, Restorer, and Curator
While attending Cornell University in the early 1970s, I began to take an interest in piano tuning and repair. I turned to library books and the journal published by the Piano Technicians Guild, and bought an old upright piano to practice on. At first I was mostly interested in doing it for my own needs, to save money, but I soon realized that it could become a career. I knew that there was a need for it both locally and nationally. In early 1974 I applied to the North Bennett Street School in Boston, then and now the best place in the country to study this subject. For a few months, while waiting for the next class to begin, I took a job at the Aeolian American factory in East Rochester, NY, manufacturer of Mason & Hamlin, Chickering, Knabe, and several other brands of piano.
The director of the piano tech program at NBSS was Bill Garlick. In addition to being an inspiring teacher, he had an important collection of mostly 19th-century pianos, which were housed at the school. So, in addition to a practical education based on modern pianos, I got a terrific introduction to historical pianos as well.
I returned to Ithaca in August 1975. I got work from the start, and around Thanksgiving Day I got a call from Malcolm Bilson, who told me that the job of tuning pianos for the Department of Music was open. He had me tune and regulate a practice room piano; he liked my work, and asked me to take the job, which I was happy to do. The Department was smaller then, with about 35 pianos, and I continued my private piano service business.
Malcolm’s interest in fortepianos grew, and I was of course interested, but in those days I didn’t work on them much. He is perfectly capable of doing his own tuning, and he knows a great deal about the other aspects of piano maintenance. Also, as his concert career took off, he knew he’d have to do most of the tuning for his concerts, because most piano technicians aren’t familiar with fortepianos. But as the decades passed, the term “fortepiano” began to encompass much more than the five octave instruments made in Vienna at the time of Mozart. As the number and variety of his, and Cornell’s, instruments increased, I began doing more of the tuning and other maintenance, especially since about 2000. My own interest and knowledge increased as a result.
I‘m now fortunate to be able to work with the amazing group of pianos at the Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards, covering the entire history of the instrument up to the present. I really enjoy working on the early pianos, and at the same time I am also very much engaged in working on contemporary pianos.